Allegedly, the Snark hunting crew consists of ten members (MG017). Is that so?
Martin Gardner (MG046) told us that “Phyllis Greenacre thinks that the ten members of the crew represent the ten children of the Dodgson family.” However, I think that to Dodgson/Carroll in his private life there was nothing important to be referred to in his fiction writings, at least not consciously. To me it is more probable that Carroll might have alluded, for example, to people involved in debates at Oxford Christ Church College, in fierce conflicts in the history of the Anglican church and in discussions about Charles Darwin’s findings. And because of Carroll’s ambiguous introduction of the Boots, I even think that we cannot be sure that there are ten crew members.
I have always wondered if Carroll was using “Boots” as a portmanteau of “Bonnets and Hoods,” and if he using “Boots” to MEAN the Maker of Bonnets and Hoods. You will note that no Boots ever appears in any picture, but the maker of Bonnets does. Also, “Maker of Bonnets” doesn’t really begin with B.
When searching for another portmanteau example by Carroll, I also found this book: Günther Flemming (translator, editor): Lewis Carroll Alice, Band 3, Die Jagd nach dem Schnark, 2013, ISBN 978-3-8442-6493-7. On page 161, Flemming wrote:
Thus, Flemming too suggests that Boots is a portmanteau. In consequence, also Flemming’s German translation allows for a similar construction of a portmanteau.
The Transmetrical Snark (MLN, Volume 131, Number 4, French issue: September 2016, pp. 932-943) by Peter Consenstein is about Jacques Roubaud‘s translation of The Hunting of the Snark. Consenstein writes (p. 933):
In Carroll’s long poem, Snark hunters are various characters, nine in all, whose names start with the letter B: a Bellman, a Bonnet Maker, a Barrister, a Broker, a Billiard-Marker, a Banker, a Butcher, a Baker, and a Beaver.
In contrary to Flemming, Roubaud does not maintain Boots (Cireuer de souliers = shoe shine) as a portmanteau for (maker of) Bonnets and Hoods ((Fabricant de) bonnets et capuches). Consenstein’s count of nine Snark hunters seems to be based on his own insight rather than on Roubaud’s translation.
With the Boots being the maker of Bonnets and Hoods,
there would be nine Snark hunters only instead of ten.
There is no tenth crew member in Henry Holiday’s illustrations to Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. In the illustration on the left side, Henry Holiday only shows the lower part of the face of someone who makes something like a bonnet. Where is the Boots? In total, Holiday’s Snark hunting party consists of nine members only.
Let us take them in order of their introduction by Lewis Carrol:
- The Bellman, their captain.
- The Boots, a maker of Bonnets and Hoods
- The Barrister, brought to arrange their disputes, but repeatedly complained about the Beaver’s evil lace-making.
- The Broker, to value their goods.
- The Billiard-marker, whose skill was immense, might perhaps have won more than his share. From John Tufail I learned that in Henry Holiday’s illustration the Billiard-marker is preparing a cheat.
- The Banker, engaged at enormous expense, had the whole of their cash in his care.
- The Beaver, that paced on the deck or would sit making lace in the bow and had often (the Bellman said) saved them from wreck, though none of the sailors knew how.
- The Baker, also addressed by “Fry me!”, “Fritter my wig!”, “Candle-ends” as well as “Toasted-cheese”, and known for joking with hyenas and walking paw-in-paw with a bear.
- The Butcher, who only could kill Beavers, but later became best friend with the lace-making animal.
It has been said often enough (at least more than three times) that the Snark hunting party consists of ten members. All Snark readers had and have been given the choice to believe that, so why not. I have a choice too and decided that there only are nine members. I can do that because line #10 of Carroll’s poem either introduces a new Snark hunter, or it describes the Snark hunter who has been introduced in line #9. Here we have a clear ambiguity. Therefore we can choose what we like to choose.
I assume that Carroll had created “Boots” as a non-sequential interlaced portmanteau built from “maker of Bonnets and Hoods” in his tragicomical ballad The Hunting of the Snark (1876).
Why do I prefer nine crew members? It’s simple. If the Boots and the Bonnetmaker are one person, then nobody can complain about the missing Boots in Henry Holiday’s illustrations. The Boots and the maker of Bonnets and Hoods being the same person could explain, why Henry Holiday seemingly didn’t depict the Boots in his illustrations. But I think, that he did.
Below you find what Carroll’s said in his preface to his long poem about portmanteau words and how Carroll introduced the hunting party in the first chapter (the first “fit”) in The Hunting of the Snark. In the first chapter all members of the Snark hunting crew are introduced.
From The Hunting of the Snark:
[…] This also seems a fitting occasion to notice the other hard words in that poem. Humpty-Dumpty’s theory, of two meanings packed into one word like a portmanteau, seems to me the right explanation for all.
For instance, take the two words “fuming” and “furious.” Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first. Now open your mouth and speak. If your thoughts incline ever so little towards “fuming,” you will say “fuming-furious;” if they turn, by even a hair’s breadth, towards “furious,” you will say “furious-fuming;” but if you have the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say “frumious.”
Supposing that, when Pistol uttered the well-known words—
“Under which king, Bezonian? Speak or die!”
Justice Shallow had felt certain that it was either William or Richard, but had not been able to settle which, so that he could not possibly say either name before the other, can it be doubted that, rather than die, he would have gasped out “Rilchiam!”
Introduction of the Snark hunting party (with nine or ten members):
001 “Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,
002 As he landed his crew with care;
003 Supporting each man on the top of the tide
004 By a finger entwined in his hair.
- Can the possibility be excluded that the “maker of Bonnets and Hoods” and the “Boots” are two individuals and that the crew consists of ten members?
- Can the possibility be excluded that “a maker of Bonnets and Hoods” describes what the “Boots” does and that the crew consists of nine members?
017 There was also a Beaver, that paced on the deck,
018 Or would sit making lace in the bow:
019 And had often (the Bellman said) saved them from wreck,
020 Though none of the sailors knew how.
[introduction of the Baker]
021 There was one who was famed for the number of things
022 He forgot when he entered the ship:
023 His umbrella, his watch, all his jewels and rings,
024 And the clothes he had bought for the trip.
025 He had forty-two boxes, all carefully packed,
026 With his name painted clearly on each:
027 But, since he omitted to mention the fact,
028 They were all left behind on the beach.
029 The loss of his clothes hardly mattered, because
030 He had seven coats on when he came,
031 With three pairs of boots —but the worst of it was,
032 He had wholly forgotten his name.
033 He would answer to “Hi!” or to any loud cry,
034 Such as “Fry me!” or “Fritter my wig!”
035 To “What-you-may-call-um!” or “What-was-his-name!”
036 But especially “Thing-um-a-jig!”
037 While, for those who preferred a more forcible word,
038 He had different names from these:
039 His intimate friends called him “Candle-ends,”
040 And his enemies “Toasted-cheese.”
041 “His form is ungainly —his intellect small —”
042 (So the Bellman would often remark)
043 “But his courage is perfect! And that, after all,
044 Is the thing that one needs with a Snark.”
045 He would joke with hyenas, returning their stare
046 With an impudent wag of the head:
047 And he once went a walk, paw-in-paw, with a bear,
048 “Just to keep up its spirits,” he said.
049 He came as a Baker: but owned, when too late —
050 And it drove the poor Bellman half-mad —
051 He could only bake Bridecake —for which, I may state,
052 No materials were to be had.
[introduction of the Butcher]
053 The last of the crew needs especial remark,
054 Though he looked an incredible dunce:
055 He had just one idea —but, that one being “Snark,”
056 The good Bellman engaged him at once.
057 He came as a Butcher: but gravely declared,
058 When the ship had been sailing a week,
059 He could only kill Beavers. The Bellman looked scared,
060 And was almost too frightened to speak:
061 But at length he explained, in a tremulous tone,
062 There was only one Beaver on board;
063 And that was a tame one he had of his own,
064 Whose death would be deeply deplored.
065 The Beaver, who happened to hear the remark,
066 Protested, with tears in its eyes,
067 That not even the rapture of hunting the Snark
068 Could atone for that dismal surprise!
069 It strongly advised that the Butcher should be
070 Conveyed in a separate ship:
071 But the Bellman declared that would never agree
072 With the plans he had made for the trip:
073 Navigation was always a difficult art,
074 Though with only one ship and one bell:
075 And he feared he must really decline, for his part,
076 Undertaking another as well.
077 The Beaver’s best course was, no doubt, to procure
078 A second-hand dagger-proof coat —
079 So the Baker advised it — and next, to insure
080 Its life in some Office of note:
081 This the Banker suggested, and offered for hire
082 (On moderate terms), or for sale,
083 Two excellent Policies, one Against Fire,
084 And one Against Damage From Hail.
085 Yet still, ever after that sorrowful day,
086 Whenever the Butcher was by,
087 The Beaver kept looking the opposite way,
088 And appeared unaccountably shy.
More about the Boots (again from the PREFACE) in a footnote:
The Bellman, who was almost morbidly sensitive about appearances, used to have the bowsprit unshipped once or twice a week to be revarnished, and it more than once happened, when the time came for replacing it, that no one on board could remember which end of the ship it belonged to. They knew it was not of the slightest use to appeal to the Bellman about it— he would only refer to his Naval Code, and read out in pathetic tones Admiralty Instructions which none of them had ever been able to understand— so it generally ended in its being fastened on, anyhow, across the rudder. The helmsman¹ used to stand by with tears in his eyes; he knew it was all wrong, but alas! Rule 42 of the Code, “No one shall speak to the Man at the Helm,” had been completed by the Bellman himself with the words “and the Man at the Helm shall speak to no one.“ So remonstrance was impossible, and no steering could be done till the next varnishing day. During these bewildering intervals the ship usually sailed backwards.
¹ This office was usually undertaken by the Boots, who found in it a refuge from the Baker’s constant complaints about the insufficient blacking of his three pairs of boots.
This means that the helmsman usually was the Boots, who had to unship the bowsprit once or twice a week to be revarnished. What does Carroll’s ballad tell us about the Bonnetmaker and the Boots?
009 The crew was complete: it included a Boots—
010 A maker of Bonnets and Hoods—
011 A Barrister, brought to arrange their disputes—
012 And a Broker, to value their goods.
109 He [Bellman] was thoughtful and grave—but the orders he gave
110 Were enough to bewilder a crew.
111 When he cried “Steer to starboard, but keep her head larboard!”
112 What on earth was the helmsman [Boots] to do?
273 The Boots and the Broker were sharpening a spade—
274 Each working the grindstone in turn:
275 But the Beaver went on making lace, and displayed
276 No interest in the concern:
Now, after we read all these lines, does the hunting party have 9 or 10 members? 9 is my personal choice, but 10 is fine too. Carroll’s answer probably is that there are exactly as many members as he described them in The Hunting of the Snark. My answer is that there are exactly 9.5±0.5 members.
- Richard Nordquist: Definition of Portmanteau
- Tudor Bonnet (Could Carroll have referred to someone who awards doctoral degrees at Oxford?)
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- related blog post
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2017-09-06, update 2021-08-11